Do We Really Need Gay Bars Anymore?

One bar's struggle to serve the LGBT community in New York may not be as much about equality as it should be.

The sign for Lulu's bar in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. (Photo: Facebook)

Apr 22, 2014· 2 MIN READ
Hayley Fox is a regular contributor to TakePart who has covered breaking news and the occasional animal story for public radio station KPCC in Los Angeles.

Gay residents have long been hailed as real estate pioneers, lauded for their ability to gentrify under-the-radar neighborhoods into bustling, attractive places to live—well, applauded by everyone, perhaps, except the people who then get priced out of those neighborhoods.

Studies have backed up an oft-repeated truism that neighborhoods favored by gay men have greater income and population growth than other areas, and as a result, property values can go up in the area.

But even that may be changing thanks to shifting attitudes. Less homophobia means gays and lesbians aren't being driven into speakeasies to socialize like they were in eras past, and as gay marriage expands the definition of LGBT families, we could see more gay couples moving to the suburbs for all the same reasons other families have: better schools and a bit of land to call one's own.

Still, a bar owner in Brooklyn's Greenpoint neighborhood said he is trying to save his ailing business by attracting a gay clientele. But Lulu’s owner John McGillion said his landlord won’t let him turn his watering hole into a gay club because of a restrictive (and homophobic) term in his lease:

The leased Premises shall be used by Tenant as a restaurant and bar. It shall not be used for adult entertainment and shall not be operated as a gay or lesbian bar and/or restaurant.

While grouping the "gay and lesbian" clause alongside "adult entertainment" seems pretty offensive, some say McGillion's real motive for publicizing the controversial LGBT clause is the same old New York City problem: rising rents. Without an extension, rent on McGillion's space is set to triple when his lease expires in less than a year.

In a lawsuit requesting that the gay clause be lifted, McGillion also asks for two to three years to be added to his lease at the same price, allowing him to put off an upcoming rent hike.

Even if McGillion wins his lawsuit, the idea that a gay bar will prove more profitable than a "straight" one is increasingly questionable. Gay bars are "dying right and left" on the East Coast, said Janice Madden, a University of Pennsylvania sociology professor.

"Gay neighborhoods are dispersing, and gays are more welcome in bars everyplace," she said.

Madden, along with University of Colorado researcher Matt Ruther, released a study last year that examined trends among same-sex couples in 38 large U.S. cities. Using census data as well as information from the American Community Survey, they looked at the cause and effect of the concentration of gay couples.

Their research found that some common conceptions about same-sex partners—such as a tendency to live in racially diverse neighborhoods—had little evidence to back them up.

Other claims, such as gayborhoods leading to the revitalization of "central city neighborhoods," had some degree of legitimacy.

But the lines of these gayborhoods are softening, and as discrimination against the LGBT community lessens, so does the need for exclusively gay neighborhoods. Gary Gates, a coauthor of The Gay and Lesbian Atlas and an expert in LGBT demography, said gay neighborhoods used to serve as safe havens for gay couples. These gayborhoods gave them political power and offered social venues, both needs that are rapidly disappearing.

"LGBT people don't need neighborhoods anymore to meet each other," he said.

An article in The Atlantic goes as far as to say that gayborhoods may disappear completely as the need for gay clustering fades. Some say these neighborhoods should be preserved as a part of LGBT history, while others say they are just another passing phenomenon in the real estate cycle.

It remains to be seen if Lulu's will go the way of the gayborhood.